The University of Manchester is to lead a £5 million project which aims to transform the process of turning research into businesses across the North of England.
Announced today by the Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, the funding will see Manchester work with the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield to develop a ‘Northern Triangle Initiative’ (NTI).
The NTI will support the growth of a significantly enhanced, shared intellectual property pipeline, set up a unique regionally-focussed finance vehicle, seek to raise £350 million in private finance to support university commercialisation, and strengthen the entrepreneurial eco-system of the North of England.
In particular the award will allow the partners to collaborate in developing intellectual property projects into business propositions in areas of common strength such as advanced materials, medical technologies and computer science.
Clive Rowland, the CEO of UMI3 – The University of Manchester’s Innovation Group – said: “We will use this award to create a significant ‘Northern Triangle’ funding capability to create a positive collaborative climate and accelerate the amazing commercial potential of the research powerhouses at the universities of Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.
“This funding, along with our existing investor partnerships, will help us overcome the continuing challenge of bridging the very risky stage between the laboratory and the market place, where developing prototypes is crucial to attracting venture funding.
“Very importantly, a key feature of this project is to enable us to develop more licensing proposals, which is a very effective way of translating science into business activities, but which has become somewhat a poor relation to the spin-out company route and is of less interest to entrepreneurs.”
The funding forms part of an allocation of £20 million to winners of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Connecting Capability Fund competition and forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper.
The Fund, which was announced in the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper, supports universities in working together and with external partners to commercialise research, help deliver the Strategy and share good practice and capacity.
It was announced at the HEFCE conference in London where Deputy President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Professor Luke Georghiou was also speaking on ‘Universities as Core Partners in Realising the Industrial Strategy’.
Commenting on the award he said: “The University of Manchester is proud to be in the top two nationally for the value of our collaborative work with our business partners and always in the leading group for commercialisation of intellectual property through UMI3.
“This award helps to fill an important gap in the Northern regional innovation ecosystem and will enable us to step up our contribution to the economy alongside our partners in Leeds and Sheffield.”
Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation at the University of Leeds said: “This is a great opportunity to build on our formidable reputation in commercialisation.
“The Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield are three research powerhouses in the North, and by working together we will have significant impact on the commercialisation of our research.”
Professor John Derrick, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said:
“The funding for the Northern Triangle Initiative lays the foundations for new advanced science and innovative industry collaborations that will help to deliver real change and create economic growth not only for the north but the whole of the UK.
“At Sheffield we are immensely proud of our longstanding research-industry links – particularly in advanced manufacturing – and we are looking forward to working with our partner institutions on this inspiring initiative extend these even further to bridge the gap between the outstanding research undertaken in universities and industry.”
The funding will last for three years and the immediate aims of the project are to work with investors and entrepreneurs to form a dynamic support system and initiate and develop some 75 technology transfer projects across the three partner universities.
An annual prize worth £50,000 has been awarded to two young Manchester researchers to help set-up a new graphene business venture.
The Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award is awarded each year to help the implementation of a commercially-viable business proposal from students, post-docs and recent graduates of The University of Manchester based on developing the commercial prospects of graphene.
This year’s competition was promoted and supported through the use of on-line resources, information sessions and business planning workshops by the Manchester Enterprise Centre, Alliance Manchester Business School.
Christian Berger and Daniel Melendrez are this year’s joint winners of the grant and ongoing business support following a decision made by a select panel of judges. Their winning entry tackles growing usability problems faced by the increasing number of over 65s who are new to using smartphones and similar touch devices.
Nearly 60% of these users report real problems when using touchscreen devices due to age related issues. Users who experience tremors or reduced perception of pressure application can often find touch screen interfaces difficult to use.
Usability problems such as touch accuracy when making on-screen selections and accidental unintended pressing have been raised as issues of frustration by many users. Christian and Daniel are seeking to address these problems by developing a transparent film overlay made using graphene.
The transparent flexible force-touch interface (MEMS-TI) is capable of measuring the force applied to film and correcting for any perceived errors. The technology could be used for a wide range of applications including; mass market consumer electronics (haptic devices, touch screens, entertainment/gaming), education, digital arts and media, materials handling and control, augmented reality and healthcare.
The newly developed film utilises graphene’s multiple superlative properties. Graphene is a perfect material for this new technology as it is transparent, flexible and extremely conductive, meaning that there is no loss in existing functionality.
In awarding this year’s prize the judges were particularly impressed with the way in which Christian and Daniel were able to combine an assured knowledge of the technology with a credible application that provided real value to a specific set of users.
Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and one of the judges for this year’s competition said: “Our commitment to student entrepreneurship is a vital part of our approach to commercialisation of graphene.
“The inspiration and expertise provided by Eli Harari combined with the scientific excellence of our graphene research gives today’s winners the opportunity to have a jump-start on the path to creating a significant business. I wish them every success!”
Christian has just successfully completed his 4 year PhD researching into Graphene-based sensors with a particular focus on pressure sensors and fabrication techniques and provides the manufacturing and material expertise. While Daniel, who is in his final year of his PhD also researching graphene-based sensors, is able to bring this and 6 years’ worth of experience in electronic instrumentation to the design of the electronics and processing that will be needed.
The winners are looking to develop an innovative range of new sensors and actuators based a patented technology of single layer graphene films supported by a thin flexible polymeric membrane.
The new technology has a range of applications beyond the one presented to the judges and in order to start explore the full potential of this exciting technology, Christian and his PhD supervisor, Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan setup Atomic Mechanics Ltd, a spin-out company from The University of Manchester. Daniel has since joined the company as Lead Engineer.
Anyone wishing to find out more about this year’s prize should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
The award is co-funded by the North American Foundation for The University of Manchester through the support of one of the University’s former physics students Dr Eli Harari (founder of SanDisk) and his wife Britt. It recognises the role that high-level, flexible early-stage financial support can play in the successful development of a business targeting the full commercialisation of a product or technology related to research in graphene.
Christian and Daniel will receive continued support to help take the first steps towards realising this project and are already enrolled onto UMIP’s Innovation Optimiser programme as well as working closely with Andrew Wilkinson of Graphene Enabled in order to help them to better engage with the market in order to better understand the best opportunities to fulfil.
Anyone interested in finding out more about Christian and Aravind’s research work should refer to the following papers:
C. Berger et al, Touch-mode capacitive pressure sensor with graphene-polymer heterostructure membrane, 2D Materials, Accepted Manuscript (2017)
C. Berger, M. Dirschka, A. Vijayaraghavan, Ultra-thin graphene-polymer heterostructure membranes, Nanoscale, 2016,8, 17928-17939